Issue 21 – Know Your Rights

For years now Nexus has enjoyed a great relationship with the Young Workers Resource Centre (YWRC). they are our first call whenever we do anything employment related and they should probably be yours too. 

So when the opportunity came to talk about COVID 19, our rights in a post COVID world and more generally about our  employment we went straight to Tony from YWRC.

What has been the impact of COVID in the youth employment sector?

No doubt about it, we’re in a recession and young workers always bear the brunt of a downturn. We’re seeing a lot of young victims of redundancy, many of these situations unlawful. Young people are also disproportionately more likely to be casual workers and these have been the first casualties, effectively losing their jobs since employers aren’t obligated to give them hours or apply for the wage subsidy on their behalf.

If you find yourself in a redundancy situation keep an eye on the process. If the employer doesn’t first propose it to you, give you all the relevant information about the reason, and seek your feedback then they probably did it unlawfully  – meaning you might be able to claim an unjustified dismissal.

In a recession should I be asked to do more hours in order to keep my job?

Asking never hurt anyone right? It’s when that ‘ask’ is actually a thinly veiled threat that it becomes a problem. Ultimately, it really comes down to what is in your employment agreement. If your contract specifies 20 hours per week only, and doesn’t have an overtime clause, then you only have to work additional shifts if you consent to it. Though if the boss is being genuine it couldn’t hurt to do them a solid if they need extra hands on deck.

On the other hand, a lot of contracts may have a clause that says you will be required to work additional shifts over and above your fixed hours. Casual workers also might be asked to work more, but in this arrangement, you are within your rights to decline. What we are actually seeing is the opposite – young workers losing hours (or jobs) because the employer is panicking about their cashflow.

What are my rights around hours of work and breaks now and will it change if National is elected?

You can bet the house your rights will change if National somehow gets elected (crazier things have happened). They’ve already signalled they will replace mandatory breaks with ‘flexible’ breaks  – meaning you won’t have an automatic entitlement if it doesn’t suit the employer. I haven’t heard any hints that work hours will get similar treatment. Right now, you have the right to be paid for any hours agreed to in your contract and your hours cannot be changed except by mutual consent. If you’re casual however, you have no rights to any hours and should only be used in a reinforcing role. If instead your employer is consistently giving you hours, then you’re a permanent employee with rights to those shifts.

Can an employer still effectively use zero-hour contract type tactics to keep me working shifts under the threat of being fired?

Legally they can’t  – but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Threatening to fire you if you don’t accept a shift sounds like a casual employment situation where you’re working shifts you don’t want to because you employer has made it clear where the door is if you don’t. This is unlawful and bosses can’t punish casuals who refuse to work a shift offered to them.

Zero-hour contracts we’re effectively outlawed a few years ago. If an employer wants you working regular, consistent shifts they must specify a minimum number of guaranteed hours in your contract. On top of this, they may require you to be available to work additional hours and if so, they must have a genuine reason and include an availability clause. This clause includes ‘reasonable’ compensation for being on standby.

What are my expectations of privacy in a job, is an employer allowed to talk to me about what is on my Snapchat or Facebook?

Privacy on social media? Does that exist? Most of the time social media is a public domain, and anything an employer can access is lawfully fair game. You can obviously bump up the security settings on your profiles and that’s probably a good idea. The main protection you have is against discrimination – you don’t have to answer any questions or discuss anything with your employer that might lead them to discriminate against you. If they feel that your social media content has implications for their company however, then they are within their rights to address it with you, e.g. if you post something about how lame your manager is.

What are some tips to help differentiate myself from other candidates in a competitive environment?

Do your research. Speak to the company’s values in your job application and display how your attributes and skills align with their vision  – no matter how big or small they are. Soft skills are extremely fashionable right now. Employers place significantly higher priority on how well you communicate, your team-working capabilities, and your work ethic, than on your technical expertise or education  – so make sure to emphasize these. Lastly, if there is room to apply a personal touch then go for it. Always follow the application instructions, but if you’re able to submit your CV in person it may be an edge over other candidates.

Need help with a work issue? Get free employment advice and support now at www.ywrc.org.nz.

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